Altitude Sickness
April 5, 2017

Extreme lengths to avoiding “fusing it”

When I was a kid, I never woke up in the morning and said, “When I grow up, I want to have a needle in my spine.”  Of course I also never said, “When I grow up, I want to be single at the age of 46.” And also, I never said, “When I grow up, I want to be poor.”
There you have it. We become things that we do not intend to be.
For those of you who have been following the travails surrounding my back, physical therapy (swimming and walking laps) has gone well, and has brought me back from a fairly inactive place. I even went so far as to get a set of jammers (basically bike shorts for swimming), and a swimming cap to go with my goggles. I trimmed my beard down, and now I am swimming even faster (the shorts, cap and trimmed beard dropped almost a minute off my 500 yard time). It feels good.
I also had an appointment with my first surgeon for my back, and did not at all receive the answer that I was hoping for. He said, “We would fuse it.” I do not want to fuse my spine because I currently do all sorts of things that demand spinal rotation, and despite the bone-to-bone contact in my spine, my spine still rotates.
The reason I still have nearly full motion in my spine is the fact that I have dedicated myself to moving my spine thoroughly in every way possible every morning for the last 28 years. This has prevented my vertebrae from forming bone spurs and joining in a hard bridge (the spine, amazing as it is, will do this to protect itself), and allowed me continuous motion.
What I could do nothing about though, is the eventual flattening and wearing away of the compromised discs. So now, I have a problem: I have a functional spine that is basically missing parts, and this is uncommon enough that there seem to be no surgical solutions for an outlier like me.
What the surgeon did recommend that I was willing to do was to get a Cortisone shot near the pinched nerve on the left side, between L3-L4. Before they give you a shot, they start an IV, ostensibly to hydrate you to prevent dizziness, but probably so that there is already an IV started if something goes really wrong and you need a sedative, or a procedure immediately (they are, after all, putting a needle so close to your spine that they x-ray you during the insertion to make sure that they are not putting the needle where it shouldn’t be).
They tried to start an IV on my hand (I have massive veins on my hand), but were unable to because of the presence of a vein valve, which caused the vein to fold.  I later remembered that this was an issue when I had IVs started in college, too. This was a painful and slightly bloody event, so we moved on to my arm, and the phlebotomist nailed it on the first try.
During the procedure, the most painful part of it was lying on my stomach (I haven’t laid on my stomach for any length of time since my back injury in 1988), and having the intramuscular lidocaine shot. Though it was an odd experience having a spinal epidural needle that far in my flesh while I was awake, but it was largely fine. There was some pain associated with the fluid push into my spine (normal), but that went away after about 15 minutes, and I walked out the door and went to work.
I have never liked steroids. I have taken cycles of steroids for my vocal chords, for a horrible bout of poison ivy­—things like that. The poison ivy (full body case, don’t ask) prescription was awful, a horse dose of Prednisone daily for a month. I nearly lost my job. I have always found steroids to be vaguely psychoactive, and this instance was no different.
I have been very good lately at getting to bed on time, and getting lots of sleep, but for two days, I was up past midnight sleeping five hours a night. And further, I never really noticed it either.  For two days after the shot I was awake and super psyched about life. Amped up. I had forgotten that this would happen.
I was told when I got the shot that the symptoms would be worse for 2-3 days, and that the real relief would come after a couple of weeks. I am interested to see how this plays out, because so far, they are wrong.
The day after the shot I was completely symptom free. No pain, full range of motion, etc. By day three, I am nearly back at the same pain level, but it s more stable, without the highs and lows.  Hopefully it will go back to being virtually symptom free. We will see.
Next week I go and see a different surgeon, one who is known more for thinking outside the box, so perhaps I will see a wider range of solutions from her. Tomorrow is another powder day, so hopefully I will be largely pain free for that!
As for Pip (“the Impaler”), he is doing really well. His cast is off his little foot, his foot is healed, he is off antibiotics, and his digestive system seems to be holding. He has been becoming aggressively affectionate, rubbing on my fingers and purring all day now, instead of just once in the morning. I interact with him out of the cage twice a day, and he lets me pick him up without running away when I put my hands out slowly.
He still bites (the little bastard), but he does it directly in between purring/scratching/snuggling episodes, so I think that is just an expression of PTSD that is basically unavoidable. He isn’t biting that badly, and his overall increase in sociability and affection is remarkable. He must have been very uncomfortable, and seems much happier now. Also, I got him a hammock, and any time he gets new hay or a fruit wood stick, or a vitamin C treat, I make him climb into the hammock to get it. I hope that he keeps being healthy and sweet, it is a really nice change.  Gratifying.

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